Roblox, GitHub and the power of online communities: A discussion with Madrona’s Dan Li

Online communities have existed since the dawn of the Internet age. And yet over the past 15 years as massive communities such as Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit and Twitter took root, questions arose over the immense power of these social networks.

Even so, the investment appetite for bringing people together in digital realms has never been stronger — highlighted and accelerated by the strain on human connections during a pandemic.

More than half of the children in the U.S. have played a game on Roblox, the social gaming platform that’s valued at $30 billion and on the cusp of an initial public offering. And the audio-based creator community Clubhouse is attracting millions of new users, not to mention a $1 billion valuation.

Dan Li, a partner at Seattle venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group, sees more niche communities forming.

An investor in virtual gaming hangout Rec Room, Li said the next-generation of communities are popular due in part to the “stickiness” of users who help populate the communities with original content.

We chatted with Li for the latest installment of 2025: Tomorrow, Today, a podcast created by GeekWire Studios in partnership with Northern Trust. In the coming weeks, we’ll chat with other leading venture capitalists — including Julie Sandler of Pioneer Square Labs and Bobby Wagner of Fuse Venture Partners — to get their thoughts on important investment themes of the future.

Listen to today’s episode here, and subscribe to 2025: Tomorrow, Today in any podcast app to catch future episodes. 

Here are a few of the highlights from Li’s conversation with GeekWire co-founder John Cook and Northern Trust’s Jordon Voss.

  • One of the trends Li is watching closely is the bifurcation of content creation, with very high-end content creators like of Disney and Netflix and then more community-based content created by users in places like TikTok and Roblox. According to Li, the participation rates among content creators in new communities is off the charts. “There are more people creating content than there ever has been before, and this is happening in every type of media category…. All of these lower-end, creator-led, user-generated content communities I think are developing their own set of strengths around how do we elevate the best content in our community and how do we incentivize people to come here and create stuff for us.”
  • Li also is watching how community is taking root in the enterprise software world, with developers and designers contributing to communities like GitHub or Smartsheet. This sort of community is prevalent in the open source software world, but Li said it is spreading rapidly into other areas. “Today, if you are a software company, one of your greatest assets is your community.”
  • Of course, there are big challenges related to communities, ranging from privacy to online bullying to proper content moderation. Li said they are paying close attention to those challenges, noting that it’s especially important in platforms like Minecraft or Rec Room that cater to kids.
  • Looking out four to five years, Li said new online communities fueled by budding creators will emerge in “every category of human creation.”

Subscribe to 2025: Tomorrow, Today in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or any podcast app. This podcast is a partnership of GeekWire and Northern Trust. Produced and edited by Josh Kerns of Cypress Point Strategic Communications.